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Charles Dickens

Graham Storey, Kathleen Mary Tillotson, and Nina Burgis (eds), The British Academy/The Pilgrim Edition of the Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 6: 1850–1852

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To MRS HARRIET BEECHER STOWE,2 17 JULY 1852

Text from Mrs H. B. Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life among the Lowly, with Bibliography by George Bullen, Boston, 1882, Introduction, p. xvii.

Tavistock House, London, | July 17, 1852.

Dear Madam,

I have read your book3 with the deepest interest and sympathy, and admire, more than I can express to you, both the generous feeling which inspired it, and the admirable power with which it is executed.

pg 716If I might suggest a fault in what has so charmed me, it would be that you go too far and seek to prove too much. The wrongs and atrocities of slavery are, God knows! case enough. I doubt there being any warrant for making out the African race to be a great race,1 or for supposing the future destinies of the world to lie in that direction; and I think this extreme championship likely to repel some useful sympathy and support.

Your book is worthy of any head and any heart that ever inspired a book. I am much your debtor, and I thank you most fervently and sincerely.2

Charles Dickens

Mrs. Harriet B. Stowe.

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Notes

Editor’s Note
2 Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe (1811–96; DAB), born in Litchfield, Connecticut, where her father, the Rev. Lyman Beecher, was Congregationalist pastor; had a strongly Puritan education. Moved to Cincinnati 1832. Taught in the Western Female Institution there, established by her sister, and wrote sketches for the Western Monthly Magazine; 1836 married Calvin Ellis Stowe (see next vol.), then Professor of Biblical Literature, Lane Theological Seminary, of which her father was Head; had seven children. Moved to Brunswick 1850. Her two brothers, who much influenced her, Henry Beecher (editor, the Christian Union) and Edward (a pastor in Boston), were strongly anti-slavery and denouncers of the Fugitive Slave Law; she herself, according to her son, was "anti-slavery in her sympathies, but … not a declared abolitionist" (C. E. Stowe, Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1889, p. 87). For her first visit to England in 1853, after the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, see next vol. She paid two subsequent visits, her English friends including Lady Byron, George Eliot and the Ruskins.
Editor’s Note
3 Published serially in National Era (Washington), June 51-Apr 52, and in one vol in Mar. First English edn end Apr, advertised in Bleak House, No. iii (May) and elsewhere. Letters of thanks for presentation copies also include Kingsley, Macaulay, and Lord Carlisle (quoted by Catherine Gilbertson, H. B. Stowe, 1937, p. 159, without dates but implying early reply); Macaulay's is quoted with date, 20 May, in 1887 edn (Letters of T. B. Macaulay, ed. T. Pinney, Cambridge, v [1981], 230). Lord Carlisle replied: "I return my deep and solemn thanks to Almighty God, who has led and enabled you to write such a book" (Gilbert-son, above, p. 160); he later wrote a Preface for edn published by Routledge Oct 52 (1853 on title page), perhaps discussed with CD: see To Lord Carlisle, 5 Aug. Kingsley wrote: "I pay you a compliment in saying that I have not read it through. It is too painful" (ibid., p. 161). The mass of English edns appeared Aug-Dec in every form from the elaborately produced gift book to penny weekly nos, many pirated. The English circulation reached one and a half million. For CD's more detailed comments on the book, see To Mrs Watson, 22 Nov 52.
Editor’s Note
1 CD returned to this point in To Mrs Cropper, 20 Dec 52.
Editor’s Note
2 Mrs Stowe had written as follows to CD, enclosing a copy of the book (probably on 20 Mar, the date of publication, on which she had sent copies to Prince Albert and Macaulay): "to the author of 'david copper-field': | The Author of the following sketches offers them to your notice as the first writer in our day who turned the attention of the high to the joys and sorrows of the lowly. In searching out and embellishing the forlorn, the despised, the lonely, the neglected and forgotten, lies the true mission which you have performed for the world. There is a moral bearing in it that far outweighs the amusement of a passing hour. If I may hope to do only something like the same, for a class equally ignored and despised by the fastidious and refined of my country, I shall be happy" (Uncle Tom's Cabin, above, Introduction, p. xvii).
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